Skeletal evidence of structural violence among undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America

Beatrice, Jared S., Angela Soler, Robin C. Reineke, and Daniel E. Martinez. 2021. "Skeletal evidence of structural violence among undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America." American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 

Objectives

We examine the prevalence and sociodemographic risk factors of skeletal indicators of stress in forensic samples of undocumented migrants from Mexico and Central America.

Materials and methods

Cranial and dental remains of 319 migrants recovered in the Arizona and Texas borderlands were assessed for porotic hyperostosis (PH), cribra orbitalia (CO), and linear enamel hypoplasias (LEH). Logistic regression models for each condition were estimated to test for associations with biological sex, age, recovery location, and whether individuals were identified. Additional models estimated for a subsample of identified migrants included region of origin, residential context, and community indigeneity.

Results

The full sample shows moderate crude prevalence of CO (9.6%) and LEH (34.1%), and a high prevalence of PH (49.6%). Significantly higher odds of PH are associated with being male (2.16 times higher), unidentified (1.89 times higher), and recovered in Arizona (3.76 times higher). Among identified migrants, we fail to find associations significant at the p < 0.05 level between skeletal stress and all sociodemographic variables except age.

Discussion

The factors associated with PH may be related to influences on decisions to migrate and diversity among migrant sending regions. The skeletal evidence for early life stress is generally consistent with common public health concerns among impoverished communities in the region. The lesions themselves are viewed as embodied risk of physiological disturbance when resource access is structured by higher-level social, economic, and political forces. Forensic anthropologists would benefit from increased sensitivity to embodied structural violence among the vulnerable individuals and communities they serve.